When Phil Collins left Eric Clapton awestruck: “Nobody had ever heard anything like that”

The multifaceted artist Phil Collins embarked on a fascinating journey that began in the 1960s when he started as a child actor. However, it was in the early 1970s that he rose to prominence as the drummer for Genesis. Joining forces with guitarist Steve Hackett, Collins initially played a supporting role to the frontman and creative genius, Peter Gabriel. Yet, destiny had other plans for Collins, as he would later step into the spotlight as the band’s lead singer and co-songwriter following Gabriel’s departure in 1975.

During their early releases, Genesis established themselves as a cornerstone of the progressive rock movement, sharing the stage with virtuoso bands like Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and Yes. Inspired by the avant-garde tendencies of the psychedelic era, these acts embraced complexity and obscurity in their music. While Collins initially embraced this aesthetic, he gradually steered the band toward a more pop-conscious direction as the 1980s loomed.

In 1980, Collins launched his solo career with the highly successful “Face Value,” which not only dominated the UK Albums Chart for three weeks but also secured the seventh spot on the US Billboard 200. The album served as a creative outlet, allowing Collins to explore his passion for soul music and record compositions that didn’t find a home within the confines of Genesis.

The standout track from “Face Value” was the iconic ‘In The Air Tonight,’ a brooding exploration of anxiety. Reflecting on its creation in a 2016 interview with Rolling Stone, Collins explained, “I wrote the lyrics spontaneously. I’m not quite sure what the song is about, but there’s a lot of anger, a lot of despair, and a lot of frustration.”

Describing the genesis of the song to Dave Thompson for “Turn It On Again: Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins, and Genesis,” Collins revealed, “I was just fooling around. I got these chords that I liked, so I turned the mic on and started singing. The lyrics you hear are what I wrote spontaneously. That frightens me a bit, but I’m quite proud of the fact that I sang 99.9 percent of those lyrics spontaneously.”

Despite its eventual popularity, ‘In The Air Tonight’ faced initial skepticism from Genesis. Collins claimed in a 1981 Melody Maker interview that his bandmates Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks dismissed the track as “too simple.” However, Banks later refuted this, denying that Collins had ever presented the song to the band before recording it.

Regardless of the controversies, the song stands as a testament to Collins’ drumming innovation. Recalling an early studio session in a 2016 conversation with Digital Trends, Collins reminisced about the reaction of friends, including Eric Clapton, when they first heard the groundbreaking drum fill: “When the drums came in, everybody said, ‘FUCKING HELL! What the fuck is that?’ Nobody had ever heard anything like that. But it was my album, and it worked.”

In Collins’ own words, “We were playing with psychological things. The audience is there going along with you, and then suddenly you knock them on the head with this thing: Bvoom-bvoom!” Experience the timeless magic of Phil Collins’ classic ‘In the Air Tonight’ below.

Leave a Comment